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The digital transformation myth

By Jean-Baptiste Sachot, 11:00 AM on May 11, 2017
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Digital transformation has become a buzzword. “Company X has completed its digital transformation”, “service Y is undergoing a digital transformation” or “here are the latest trends in corporate digital transformation” – it’s everywhere. This revolutionary shift to a “digital first” approach seemingly came out of nowhere. But is it aptly named? Instead of transformation, shouldn’t we actually be talking about evolution?

Corporate digitalisation: a long, gradual process

When Charles Darwin presented his famous theory of evolution, it was very coolly received by a highly sceptical scientific community. Since the dawn of time, people thought that progress came in great leaps forward. As if, by magic, humankind as we know it just appeared. And ta-da! We moved from scattered huts to urban hubs. But Darwin planted the idea of progress: evolution, not revolution.

And “digital transformation” is no exception. Companies cannot do everything in one day – it takes time to install digital tools and implement working methods based on digital communications. The process has been slow, gradual and logical: IT came to the fore at the end of the 20th century; organisations went paperless; networks reigned supreme; the age of the Internet dawned; mobile networks appeared; and so it continues. Evolution plods on, wholly dependent on changes in society.

The revolution isn’t about technology

Don’t fall into this all-too-common trap: digital transformation is not “only” about technology; it is linked to society in the broadest sense of the word. Did you know that the first electric cars were manufactured in the 1830s? Why didn’t they take off? It wasn’t down to technology; it was a matter of timing. You can be right at the wrong time.

Put the issue of technology aside for a moment and think about what should change within companies: business tools, working setups, practices and ways of working together. Digital transformation is first and foremost about ecosystems. What does that mean in practice? Smashing the divisions between services and roles. Breaking down barriers between departments. Being open to developments from the outside world. In short: learning to work differently, with the help of change management (and a good ERP solution).

A new approach and customer focus

The digital transformation is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It’s not a matter of installing some software and then boasting about having made a digital breakthrough. Nor is it about box-ticking: IoT, collaborative platforms, ERP, intranet, social marketing, inbound marketing and so on. Innovation for innovation’s sake does not a digital transformation make.

On the contrary, you have to rethink your approach by giving power back to users – that means staff members and customers. They must be at the heart of digital transformation. After all, they are why companies have redesigned their business models. Take the example of SNCF and the group’s enthusiastic approach. When it comes to carrying out digital projects: “The starting point must be the needs of the user, whether customer or employee, and the work must be done in a nimble manner” (as Yves Tyrode, Digital and Communication Director, explained in an interview).

Let’s face it, the digital transformation is not going to happen. Why? Because there is no such thing and never has been per se. It’s a gradual process that uses technology to incorporate social and human changes. It’s about every aspect of a company’s operations, not just a few tools. The world is changing, as are consumers… and so must companies.   Download our free ebook : The 7 rules of good management for services compagnies

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